That mess about the San Francisco Natural wine week, and a constant use of the "Natty" word made me think about Cathy Corison, keeper of the faith, working towards making terroir driven wines for over three decades. So I asked the Napa winemaker about her thoughts and about her wine. I've asked her whether I could replay her email here. She sweetly said yes, and I'm not even sure she knows that one of the tenets of le monde de la vin au naturel is transparency.
This post has stirred some interest, probably because it is rare that a wine maker in this country talks so openly about their practice. I'm not sure why this has also provoked some thoughts on the 'risks' of no sulfur. This is not for the wine writer or critic to critique but the wine maker and the winemaker alone to decide. Obviously the Corison wines speak for themselves, they are extremely highly regarded by, actually, a wide range of palates.
There is some extra reading--a round table on the use of sulfur @ WineBuisness. Lots of good stuff!
All is well here. I'm expecting a terrific vintage with all this cool weather. Thank you so much for the Portland connection. I've come to love the serendipity of Twitter.
I've been observing the maelstrom of the 'natural' wine discussions from the corner of the room. Like most everything, the truth often sits in the gray area between black and white. (And the truth is different for each person.)
In a day when I am shocked by the manipulation I see in winemaking everywhere, I wonder what happened to growing grapes well in a great vineyard, crushing the grapes and letting Mom Nature do the rest. Our roll should be one of shepherding; we don't want our charges to go over the edge of a cliff.
For me the less manipulation the better. I think of a winemaker's bag of tricks like a doctor's black bag. You hope you don't ever need to use them, and you seldom do, but you're glad they're there. Sadly the tricks have become a routine part of much winemaking.
I don't think anything precludes me from being considered a 'natural' winemaker.
As to specifics, I have not acidulated a Cabernet for nearly 30 years. Fresh out of UCD, over 30 years ago (!), I had been taught that no sound wine could have a pH higher than 3.3. I quickly learned that that was rubbish. That said, I believe that good acidity is one of the most important components of a great wine, both from a winemaking standpoint and wine enjoyment. There are far fewer technical pitfalls in making a wine with a healthy pH. For me, it boils down to growing the grapes well on a great site and picking properly. If I need to wait for flavors to come arounduntil 25°+ Brix and the natural acidity has plummeted, I've failed in the vineyard (or I'm growing the wrong thing in the wrong place).
SO2 seems to be the other bugaboo. First of all, every cell in most people's body produces SO2 as a byproduct of metabolism, so most of us have enzymes in place to deal with it. It is also produced by yeast during fermentation. Some yeast strains produce more than others- a possible tool for winemakers. There IS widespread over- and misuse of SO2 all over the world. One of the things I took away from my academic background in enology is an understanding of how it works. People always say it's added as a preservative. That's true sometimes, but such high levels are sometimes necessary to inhibit microbial activity that the wine is ruined. Making wine from sound grapes and monitoring the health of the wine at all stages allows very minimal SO2 use. For me, the most important reason for SO2 use is to bind up aldehydes that are a byproduct of fermentation (and can occur during cellaring if practices are sloppy, mostly lax topping regimes). High aldehyde levels in wine mask fruit.
Personally, I do something that results in very low total SO2 in the bottle but is frankly very risky. I don't use ANY SO2 at all until after the malolactic fermentation is complete. SO2 added to must to inhibit wild yeasts, gets bound up by acetaldehyde as it is produced during primary fermentation, resulting in a new wine with a basement of significant total SO2 but no free SO2. It is free SO2 that protects the wine in the barrel from spoilage organisms, notably Brettanomyces. This is very risky because of the possibility of a "ferocious" Lactobacillus spoilage (by species related related to the benign ML bacteria) that can produce so much VA during alcoholic fermentation that the wine is spoiled before it goes dry. Again, my best defense is picking sound grapes that don't come into the winery already spoiling. That said, someday I will likely encounter aLactobacacillus spoilage and need that bag of tricks I mentioned. (Though maybe not- I've been doing this for over 30 years.)
This is turning into a tome and I'm out of time. Natural wine is a big subject. After harvest I should have more leisure to elaborate if you want.